Happy to celebrate

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If you’re reading today’s column, congratulations. You made it to another holiday season.

If you read about or listened to everything that was reported over the last several months, as the grim death figures led the evening newscasts, you might have figured each of us was even money to be featured on the obituary page before the end of the year. A lot of our friends, relatives, and acquaintances didn’t get to open a gift this year. Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with them and their friends and families. But now that we lucky ones have made it this far, I hope we can put all the recent bad news into some kind of perspective.

In the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, 675,000 Americans died. The population of the country was 102 million at the time. That means that we lost two-thirds of 1 percent of us. In the current pandemic, it is estimated we will lose slightly over 400,000 of our population of 330 million Americans. That is a fraction over one-10th of 1 percent. That means that percentage-wise, the Spanish Flu killed more than six times as many of us as COVID19. And that earlier virus broke out just after 117,000 American servicemen and women were killed in World War I, and 240,000 were wounded.

These are tough times we live in, for sure. Those were tougher. Let’s be grateful our parents or grandparents survived it, or we wouldn’t be here to discuss it.

I would imagine very little of that information causes most of us to feel much better about the year we’ve just experienced. But that isn’t my purpose here anyway. It is simply to provide a frame of reference so the Grinch-factor doesn’t overtake us as we guzzle our egg nog by the Christmas tree and watch the battle for the final NFL playoff spots.

When I was growing up, I probably spent at least every other day between Christmas and New Year’s in a Catholic church. I was in a boys’ choir for most of the religious services held during that special time. I will pause here for my friends to have a quick chuckle at that admission.

The good nun who directed us was always raising her right-hand palm slowly upward as she stared at me, which was a constant reminder that I was half a note lower than the other boys, and thereby ruining the harmony.

I was also the first kid in my fifth-grade class to learn all the Latin prayers and be certified as an official altar boy. I still can rattle off most of them….”Ad Deum qui laetificat, juventutem meum,” was our first response to the priest’s lines. Don’t ask me what that means. I could Google it, but that would be cheating. I didn’t know the meaning then either; I just spouted the words at the right time.

I could tell you that I memorized these Latin lines because I was a devoted Catholic boy, but that would be a lie, and that’s still forbidden by one of the Ten Commandments. I memorized them because I was promised a Schwinn bicycle if I made altar boy within a certain span of time, like a month.

I don’t attend Sunday mass anymore like I did for 40 years, but I still treasure that I had a Catholic upbringing and a Catholic education. There was never a time that I asked for extra help with schoolwork that I was turned down by either a nun or a Jesuit. They were as dedicated to their calling as any group of people I’ve known since then.

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While most of the educators of my youth would probably be disappointed that I moved away to Las Vegas, a place I labeled Skin City in a recent book, I think they’d be proud that I chose writing as a way to put food on the table these many years.

I also miss all the rituals that were part of the tradition during this time of year and Easter. Our family does play Christmas music weeks ahead of time, particularly Bing Crosby and Glen Campbell. And our kids’ stockings are hung by the chimney with care. I’ve never been a slave to tradition, but I make an exception every Christmas. Call me corny. I can handle it.

About the Author

Jack Sheehan

Vegas Vibe columnist Jack Sheehan has lived in Las Vegas since 1976 and writes about the city for Gaming Today. He is the author of 28 books, over 1,000 magazine articles, and has sold four screenplays.

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